A DIY taco bar is a real treat for kids because it gives them some control around mealtime, and control lays the groundwork for adventurous eating! Use these tips to make a child-friendly taco bar station.
Shells: Choose either soft tortillas (chewy) or hard shells (crunchy) depending on the texture your child enjoys more. You may want to search your grocery store for street tacos flour tortillas, which are smaller tortillas and easier for your kids to manipulate and eat.
You can heat up the tortillas by placing them in foil and baking them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes. You can also fry them by adding a little oil in a hot pan with a touch of salt (or toast the tortillas on the pan without oil). I personally fry the hard shells for an extra crispy/oily texture and heat the soft tortillas over a gas flame to keep the consistency tender.
Fillers: For meat lovers ground beef, chicken, fish or turkey is the key ingredient for a taco. For kids who like spicy fillers, try using a little chili powder or garlic when cooking up the ground meat. For my vegetarian friends, you can use other yummy protein sources like soy-based meats, black or pinto beans, or roasted veggies.
Veggies & Fruit: Shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced cabbage, avocados, green onions, radishes and jalapeños are a few delicious foods to expose your child to in a multi-layered taco. By offering veggies and fruit in all types of colors and shapes you can help your children make healthier food decisions. Score!
Toppings: Shredded cheese and sour cream are kid favorites. But you can also try cilantro, salsa or a squeeze of lime / lemon juice. When I was a child, I loved to put white onions and lime juice on top of my taco, and it’s a topping I continue to use to this day!
Assembly: To assemble the bar, put the taco shells on one side of the Play Mat and arrange the ingredients in the compartments. Put the food you most want your child to eat in the largest section so it has more visual presence. But try to keep ‘picky eating comments’ to yourself during food activities where your child is trying to establish some food choices and control. So, if you want your child to eat more protein, fill that larger section with meat or beans. Want them to try a new veggie? Put it in the larger section the next time you have taco night! Remember… allowing your little one to select foods encourages them to be a little braver and try something new!
Three Taco Bar Twists: Twist #1 - try using taco stands (like we did in this picture) to hold the taco shells in place for easy filling. Twist #2 - change up the taco bar by modifying the shell to a flat shell. Add some refried beans and you have a tostada bar! Twist #3 - alternate the shell with a taco bowl and make a healthy taco salad!
Regardless of your taco bar setting, remember that messy food play has an important role in teaching kids about food and avoiding future mealtime battles. Twisting up the taco bar is a great way to make slight changes that aren't too overwhelming for a picky eater.
Food Education: I have fun with food introduction by making up cool names. As an example, I like to call tostadas 'UFO Tacos' because of their fun disc-like shape! Kids adore this name, and once they learn to eat and love it, I teach them the correct label (tostada) to encourage good food education. Give it a try!
What types of toppings does your family enjoy on their tacos? Let us know if you make the taco bar a weekly event! #ezpzfun #tacobar #toddler #playmat
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Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 26 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning Tiny Cup & Tiny Spoon (for infants) and the Mini Cup + Straw Training System & Mini Utensils (for toddlers).